The Cellist—Jacqueline, au secours !

For her début as the new Ballet Director and Chief Choreographer of the Ballet Zürich, Cathy Marston is showing the Cellist, which she composed for the Royal Ballet in London. The ballet tells the life story of Jacqueline du Pré, cellist extraordinaire (wife of famous conductor Daniel Barenboim), struck at her prime by multiple sclerosis. The ballet is structured around the Cellist (Giulia Tonelli), the Cello (Wei Chen), and the Conductor (Esteban Berlanga), and is supported by figures of the cellist’s family, her cello teacher, and the male trio of the “musical friends”.

While this new production is breath of fresh air after more than a decade of Christian Spuck’s rule over the Ballet Zürich, it unfortunately fails to impress. Beyond a lack of proper technique (both on stage and in the orchestra pit), there seems to be somewhat of a rift between the London-born play and the Zürich cast.

The play itself is very biographical (almost ostentatiously so), closely following du Pré’s life from childhood to stardom, wedding, illness, and death. The dancing style is quite modern (especially the cello’s part, which requires some novel contorting techniques), but still more classical than what we have been accustomed to by Spuck. All of it colour-coded for your convenience, which borders on the Disney-like at times.

Giulia Tonelli (the Cellist) is fantastic, and extremely virtuosic in the last scenes, where she very delicately dances an ill and stiff du Pré. The pas de deux between the Cellist and the Cello are (mostly) very nicely executed, airy and dreamy. The pas de trois however do not work; they appear stiff and unprepared.

The dancer’s technique in general leaves to be desired (I heard there were still many mistakes during the general repetition). Lack of training time in order to bring a ballet by Marston on stage before the summer pause, or stylistic incompatibilities between continental Zürich and british London.

For the music, the orchestra in general is quite alright, and Philip Feeney’s score patchworked from Elgar, Beethoven, Fauré, etc. is quite lovely, even if a bit too sentimental at times. The main cello soloist (Lev Sivkov) however, had the arduous task of holding up to Jacqueline du Pré’s best performances and now widely known style and timbre; unfortunately for the audience, this falls short (especially in the Elgar cello concerto, du Pré’s most well-known piece): too slow, not energetic and not melancholic enough. Dommage!

Let’s hope that the next production of Marston for the Ballet Zürich and the first few seasons of her era look a bit brighter.

Christian Knabenhans
Christian Knabenhans
Ph.D. student in security and privacy

Doctoral student at EPFL. Applied cryptography, privacy-enhancing technologies, useable security.